Info Service on WTO and Trade Issues (Oct14/08)
31 October 2014
Third World Network
D-G consultations on TFA/food security, post-Bali work
Published in SUNS #7905 dated 30 October 2014
Geneva, 29 Oct (Kanaga Raja) -- The Director-General of the World
Trade Organisation (WTO) has been holding a number of closed-door
consultations on the current impasse over the Trade Facilitation Agreement
(TFA)/food security issue as well as on the future of the other Bali
decisions and the post-Bali work programme.
At a General Council meeting held on 21 October, D-G Roberto Azevedo
had announced that he would be holding a series of meetings in a range
of different configurations beginning 22 October, and that a Heads
of Delegation (HOD) meeting had also been planned for 31 October.
At a formal meeting of the Trade Negotiations Committee (TNC) on 16
October, the D-G had outlined the content of the discussions where
he had suggested four questions for the members to try to answer:
What should we do with the decisions on Trade Facilitation and public
stockholding? What should we do with the other Bali decisions, including
the LDC package? How should we respond to the Ministerial mandate
to develop a work program on the post-Bali agenda? And how do we see
the future of the negotiating pillar of the WTO? (See SUNS #7900 dated
23 October 2014).
According to a report in the Washington Trade Daily (WTD), Azevedo
had held separate closed-door meetings over the last two days with
representatives of the African Group, the ACP (African, Caribbean
and Pacific countries) Group, and the Least Developed Countries (LDC)
According to the WTD report, at these meetings, all three groupings
stressed on the need to address the outstanding Bali issues in agriculture
and development while a solution to the issue of public stockholding
for food security purposes is worked out by India and the United States.
The three groups rejected the notion of a possible plurilateral agreement
on Trade Facilitation in the absence of an immediate resolution of
the public stockholding issue, the WTD report said.
According to the WTD report, the African Group and the LDCs voiced
preference for an acceleration of the work on the remaining Bali issues,
which they said needed to be converted into binding agreements.
They strongly disapproved of the stand by some members in stalling
the regular work on the other Bali and Doha issues until the TFA protocol
is adopted, said the WTD report.
At the formal TNC meeting on 16 October, developing countries voiced
opposition to engaging in plurilaterals, and stressed instead on the
principles of transparency and inclusiveness.
India had told that meeting that it believes that "one should
abjure the temptation of seeking alternative approaches without assessing
carefully the systemic implications of rearranging our founding value
India also expressed disappointment with the position of some members
that no engagement is possible on the development of a post-Bali Work
Programme till "we address the issue of Trade Facilitation implementation",
adding that it sees the Work Programme as being on a separate track.
At that same meeting, the African Group highlighted that there is
a new narrative emerging that seems to be pointing towards plurilateralisation
of the subsequent WTO agreements. It recalled the declarations of
various African Ministerial Conferences which patently took a stand
against plurilateral approaches to negotiations.
"This remains valid today," it said.
The LDCs were of the view that plurilaterals "are isolationist
in nature and they undermine multilateralism."
Also speaking at that TNC meeting, the ACP had stressed the urgency
in preparing the post-Bali work programme to conclude the remaining
issues in the Doha Development Agenda. (See SUNS #7897 dated 20 October
Meanwhile, a separate WTD report cited three possible scenarios emerging
in a closed-door small-group consultation held earlier by the D-G.
According to this WTD report, in a closed-door meeting with some dozen
countries, which included trade envoys from Ukraine, Qatar, Switzerland
and several Caribbean and South American countries, three possible
scenarios had been suggested by the D-G.
The WTD report said that one scenario is a negotiated plurilateral
agreement on Trade Facilitation by some countries if there is no quick
resolution over the public stockholding programmes for food security
According to the WTD report, the D-G suggested that if a plurilateral
TF agreement is concluded outside the WTO then WTO rules would not
apply to such an agreement.
(In a subsequent report, WTD cited a WTO official as clarifying that
the three scenarios discussed in the closed-door meetings were not
the D-G's own, but were suggested by a number of members in those
In the second scenario, said the WTD, members would continue work
on the remaining issues in the Bali package as well as in the regular
WTO committee meetings while a solution is found on the public stockholding
According to the WTD report, several members have already rejected
that approach, saying that there cannot be work as usual in the WTO
until the TFA protocol is adopted.
The third scenario is a continuation of the consultations for a solution
to the public stockholding issue, with the recognition that there
would be little time left in the year to finalise a full post-Bali
work programme, said the WTD.
According to the WTD, most of the participants sought more time to
contemplate the options, with some stating their total opposition
to any form of plurilateral agreement. Many insisted that work in
all areas continue regardless of the delay in finding a solution to
the standoff, it added.
The WTD cited one developing country envoy as saying that work in
the WTO regular committees and on the Bali issues must continue, and
that they should not be held hostage to the TFA/food security stalemate.
Veteran trade analyst and Editor Emeritus of the SUNS, Chakravarthi
Raghavan, in a comment to SUNS, said a plurilateral negotiation (for
an agreement) outside the WTO in any area of trade already covered
by existing WTO agreements or under negotiation in the WTO would be
a violation of the WTO Treaty.
Such a plurilateral accord on TF would be violative of Art. II: 1
of the WTO Agreement, and the first sentence of Art. III: 2.
Moreover, he said, to the extent that such a TF accord purports to
enable better conditions of treatment on tariff or non-tariff matters
for its members, not available for non-members of the plurilateral
TFA, in relation to the GATT Articles V, VII or VIII or any of the
WTO agreements in Annex IA, will be violative of the fundamental WTO
and GATT MFN principle and can be successfully challenged in a dispute
It would be immaterial whether such treatment is provided under any
bilateral or plurilateral accord, inside or outside the WTO, or is
de facto or de jure.
And considering the claims of the TF proponents that their existing
rules and practices already conform to the TF accord, it is not even
clear what such a TF accord will achieve, unless the major markets
for goods trade are parties to such an agreement and change their
rules and practices, he said.
When this idea was initially floated earlier this year for the TF
accord to be concluded and made effective without India, the New Zealand
Trade Minister, Tim Groser, in a comment to the FT, had dismissed
The airing of such views, inside or outside the WTO, and in media
only appears to be part of an effort to panic other members to yield
to the US and its demands, even as the US merrily goes around disregarding
even existing rules in existing agreements, Raghavan said.
The latest example is the reported accord between the US and Mexico,
purportedly to settle anti-dumping investigations over sugar, requiring
Mexico to "voluntarily" agree not to export more than 50
percent of its sugar production and to export even this quantity in
a modulated way over a period.
Such an accord is prohibited and violative of Art. I (b) and its Footnotes
3 and 4 of the WTO's Safeguards Agreement, he said.
While a multilateral trade agreement and rules and multilateral negotiations
are always to be preferred, and are ‘more efficient' than any other
trade agreement, there is only one thing worse, namely, multilateral
rules that everyone abides by except the powerful, he added. +